Ahmad Massoud: ‘I’m 100% sure I can topple the Taliban’

It’s fighting season in Afghanistan again. When the Americans were in charge, after the poppy fields had been harvested in late spring, and the madrassas in Pakistan that supplied the Taliban with fanatical soldiers had finished for the term, the Islamists kicked off the fighting. Between 2001 and 2021, around 200,000 people died, including 453 Britons. Now an insurgent group called the National Resistance Front (NRF) are starting the annual springtime assaults, this time against the Taliban government. ‘The Taliban do not possess the support of the mass of the people. We do’ ‘In the past 31 days, we have staged 31 attacks on Taliban, only in Kabul,’ Ahmad Massoud,

Isis is wreaking havoc in Afghanistan

The bomb tore through an examination hall in Kabul on Friday, where students – mostly minority Hazara, mostly young women – were sitting a practice test in preparation for university. Thirty-five were killed, dozens more injured. An unspeakable human tragedy. We don’t formally know who did it, but we can guess. Under the Taliban’s leadership, Afghanistan is a haven for terrorists. And the terrorists compete. The Taliban is, in my judgement, indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. Its eyes are still firmly placed on international terrorism: a campaign of domestic terror within Afghanistan against ‘enemies within’ – be they former members of the internationally-recognised Afghan government, or religious minorities, or campaigners for liberty

A letter won’t educate Afghan girls

Well, that’ll show ‘em. Liz Truss has released a joint statement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declaring themselves ‘united in our condemnation of the Taliban’s decision not to reopen secondary schools to Afghan girls’. Also united are the EU high representative and the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Italy, Japan and Norway. The authorities in Afghanistan issued an order earlier this week suspending the planned return to school of female pupils, citing the need for a decision on uniforms for girls that are compliant with ‘Sharia law and Afghan tradition’. Team Euro-America: World Police say the Taliban’s U-turn ‘contradicted its public assurances to the Afghan people and to

Could an uprising succeed against the Taliban?

The social media accounts of the new so-called ‘National Resistance Front’ (NRF) in Afghanistan give the impression of a raging insurgency already taking place against the Taliban. The talk is of ‘intense clashes’, with the Taliban suffering ‘heavy casualties.’ There are exaggerated accounts of running battles and successful ambushes against the Taliban across the north and east of the country, in particular in the Panjshir Valley, a long narrow region surrounded by mountains on all sides, not far north of Kabul. It was here that the NRF first raised its flag last summer as the country collapsed in the face of a Taliban assault. That flag is one of the

Afghanistan is starving to death and there is nothing the West can do

The scale of the human tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan is hard to comprehend. The economy has collapsed, some 20 million people face death by starvation and international agencies like the World Food Programme have already doubled their estimate of what they will need just to keep people alive. They are appealing now for a staggering $2.4 billion (£1.8 billion) to get food stocks into position and keep a pipeline of supplies into the country through the winter. There have been reports of parents selling their babies and there are scenes of daily humiliation as people pile up household goods in the street to try to sell for scraps of food.

Can Beijing buy the Taliban?

China is seeking a grand bargain from the Taliban: eliminate the groups Beijing says are stirring up trouble among its Muslim Uighurs in exchange for massive aid to rebuild Afghanistan. It sounds enticing for both sides as they sit down in Doha this week, but there are numerous questions about whether either can deliver, and a good chance that China will become the next imperial power sucked into the ‘graveyard of empires’. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy prime minister, and Wang Li, China’s foreign minister, are reportedly meeting in the capital of Qatar just as the Taliban faces a growing number of attacks from Isis-K, a provincial affiliate of

Punch-up at the palace: why the Taliban is tearing itself apart

The office of the Afghan president, the Arg, sits in more than 80 acres of parkland, quadruple the size of the White House estate, and more than twice the size of Buckingham Palace grounds. Since it was built in the late eighteenth century, most of its occupants have died violently in one of the elegant buildings, built inside a large square compound of thick stone walls as a copy of an ancient fortress. But there has rarely been a scene like the one earlier this month, following the visit to Kabul of the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed. He had come to Kabul to

Should we listen to Shamima Begum’s verdict on the hijab?

What should one make of Shamima Begum’s appearance on Good Morning Britain? The London schoolgirl left the UK in 2015 to join Isis in Syria, but it appears she’s converted to common sense in recent times. Dressed in a sleeveless top and a baseball cap, Begum made a number of frank admissions, including how she ‘felt very constricted in the hijab. I felt like I was not myself.’ The cynic will suggest it is an act in an attempt to be allowed back to Britain. Perhaps. Or maybe we should give Begum the benefit of the doubt. She was young and naive at the time. Now she understands how an enforced

How stable is the Taliban government?

Some western governments and media have been involved in a collective act of wishful thinking in recent months over the Taliban—believing them somehow to be ‘moderate’ and on the way to forming an inclusive government. The idea began with their elevation of status as a partner in negotiations with the US in Doha. They were legitimised, so some believed they had changed. The last remnants of that belief must have been burnt out by the appointment of the Taliban cabinet this week, which was not inclusive in any sense, but was the result of three weeks of bartering between different Taliban factions, only resolved by the intervention of the head

The rise of Taliban Twitter

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was swift, but this victory wasn’t won overnight. For years, the Taliban has been waging a softer fight: one on social media. Since it was removed from power, the Taliban has dedicated enormous resources to developing its presence online.  As it successfully recaptured Afghanistan, the propaganda opportunities which it put to use on Twitter as the eyes of the world watched suggested these efforts have paid off. Images and videos of Taliban forces easily gaining ground and advancing into Afghanistan’s cities – picking up military hardware left by the Americans along the way – spread like wildfire online. Islamists around the world were delighted.  In the years since it

The 9/11 anniversary marks a painful moment for squaddies

The sweet salvation of the summer recess over, we returned to Sandhurst for our final term of officer training. It was 11 September, 2001 – a day that started with a hike in the sunshine and which came to define my time in the British Army. The events of 9/11 would lead to my own deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the loss of dear friends and comrades. Of course, on that September morning none of us knew how events 3,000 miles away – and the political decisions taken in the aftermath of those terrible attacks – would have such a momentous impact on our lives. After the buses dropped us off, the hike

Life under the Taliban’s charm offensive

The Taliban Cultural Commission sounds a contradiction in terms but for all foreign journalists it’s the first stop in the new Afghanistan. There, in a dusty office on the first floor of the old Ministry of Information, I was handed a letter which allowed me to go anywhere in the country, except Kabul airport or military installations. In a neighbouring office I met Anamullah Samangani, a Taliban commander from the northern province of Samangan. He’s an Uzbek, resplendent in crisp white shalwar kameez, black waistcoat and black and white silk turban. He told me he has read one of my books. ‘Do you feel safe in Kabul, have you had

How the fight against terror in Afghanistan will change

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the West entered a new age: it was the era of the ‘shadow war’, in which American – and Western – might was ranged at preventing the export of terrorism from the Middle East. That was, of course, before the futile exercise of ‘nation building’ in Afghanistan and Iraq. Twenty years on, we are back where we started: Afghanistan is in the grip of a radical Islamist regime. Again it is likely to become a launch pad for Al Qaeda (and Isis) attacks in Europe and America. So how can the West defend itself from the threat? Amidst the debacle of the hasty

The West is being played by the Taliban

There have been some curious juxtapositions in Afghanistan this week. On the one hand, the under-19 Afghan cricket team was allowed to leave for a planned tournament in Bangladesh, as if things were normal, while on the other there was a sinister military parade taking place in Kandahar this week. After the lines of horsemen in flowing white robes, a deliberate image of Islamic warrior superiority, came the fleets of captured Humvees. And at the side of the procession lay a car packed with a bomb, suicide vest, and large plastic bottles of explosives from a roadside bomb. This is a government-in-waiting promoting terrorist weapons that indiscriminately kill civilians. And

Don’t be fooled: the Taliban hasn’t changed its spots

Has the Taliban really changed its spots? Those who advocate talking to the Taliban make the case that they have. The organisation, they say, has recognised the mistakes it made in the years culminating in 9/11. Others claim that the organisation is now committed to local and national aims, not international terrorism, and that the Taliban have – or can be moderated – via the tool of engagement. All of these approaches seem to share the view there is a disconnect between the west’s reaction to events in Afghanistan, and the reality. But is this really the case?  Pakistan’s national security adviser, Dr Moeed W Yusuf, has suggested the time has come to

Philip Patrick

Why is Toyota so popular with the Taliban?

While Taliban posing with newly acquired US military hardware has been a searing humiliation for America in recent days, here in Japan the debacle in Afghanistan has led to a different source of embarrassment. A recurring image of coverage from Kabul is of Toyota pick-up trucks ferrying gun-toting fighters around the city. It has given the iconic company’s management a serious PR problem, and not for the first time. The Taliban have been favouring the sturdy and reliable Japanese ‘Land Cruisers’ since the 1990s, but it is also the vehicle of choice for Al Qaeda and Isis. The appeal seems to be the suitability for rough terrain and the ease

America, the Taliban and a farewell to arms

It was quite the handover at Kabul airport this week. The last American troops to exit Afghanistan reportedly left facing an ‘elite unit’ of the Taliban. In a season finale that the most dystopian screenwriter would have struggled to invent, the elite Taliban unit was itself bedecked in US military kit. That is, they were not only wearing uniforms and protective kit provided by the fleeing US army, but were parading the airport with US-provided guns in US-provided vehicles. This was the culmination of a fortnight that the White House is still trying to present as a success. One of the biggest airlifts in history, they insist. In reality the

How the Taliban will govern Afghanistan

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years in the late 1990s, the key power lay in a modest room in a house in Kandahar. There was just a simple iron bedstead and a box as furniture, and no door but a curtain separating it from the rest of the house. Sitting on rugs on the floor the Taliban founder Mullah Omar issued orders, made appointments and took money from the box. The ministries in Kabul operated on fiats issued from this room. His successor as Emir, Haibatullah Akhunzada, does not enjoy the same unquestioning authority. He was known as a scholar and ideologue not a fighter, and emerged as

How will Europe respond to a wave of Afghan refugees?

On Tuesday, Franek Sterczewski made a break for the border. Wearing a long trench coat and carrying a blue plastic bag, he managed to outrun one armed soldier before being stopped by a line of officers. Sterczewski, however, wasn’t fleeing his native Poland — he was trying to help those who desperately want to get in. August 24, 2021 Brussels has accused the Belarusian government of actively shipping in would-be refugees The rebellious 33-year old MP had planned to hand out medicine and water to the line of asylum seekers camped out on the eastern frontier with Belarus. Hundreds of people from countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have begun

The descent of Afghanistan

The bomb attacks at Kabul airport were what US and allied commanders overseeing the mass evacuation had most feared. In so far as they could be, they were prepared. They had, it appears, received very specific intelligence — perhaps based on a trial run by the bombers — that such attacks were in the offing. They warned people to stay away from the airport. Guards were doubtless on extra-high alert. And yet the perpetrators got through. More than 60 civilians were killed along with 13 US marines. Dozens more were injured and taken to already overburdened hospitals in Kabul. The carnage of 26 August was the costliest day in the